Every now and again, a cat owner will ask me if cats have a paw preference, similar to left- or right-handed preference in humans. In fact, they do!
Researchers have conducted several studies over the years trying to pin down paw preference percentages. And while it’s clear cats do have a preference, the study results range from 39 – 52% preferring their right paw and and 28 – 44% preferring the left, with about 10 – 12% coming up ambidextrous. The most recent studies put the split close to 45% right and left and 10% ambidextrous.
This is in contrast to people, of whom about 90% are right handed, 10% prefer their left hand and less than 1% are truly ambidextrous.
Like us, however, the paw a cat uses tends to depend upon the complexity and importance of the task at hand (couldn’t help it!). If it’s something easy or fun, like playing with a toy mouse or a fuzzy ball, cats will use either or both paws. Up the intensity by putting their favorite treat into a puzzle toy or under a cup, though, and they’ll more than likely start using their dominate, more coordinated paw.
Paw preference develops between 6 and 12 months and seems to be tied to gender, with female cats mostly preferring their right paws and males tending towards their left paws.
So how can we tell which paw our cat prefers? Repetitive testing! Put your cat through these tasks about 20 times each (it doesn’t have to be all at once) and record the results:
- Smear something sticky, like a dab of butter, on the top of your cat’s nose. Which paw does he use to remove it?
- While your cat is watching, place a treat under a sofa cushion just beyond his reach. Which paw does he use to search for it?
- Place a treat inside a 16 ounce cup or jar with a narrow opening and place it on the floor. With which paw does your cat retrieve the treat?
Naturally, I had to test this out on my own cats. Turns out five of them fall along the typical gender lines, but crazy little Heather is ambidextrous!
Go on, test your kitties. Once you’re done and you’ve averaged the results, come back and tell us – is your cat a lefty, a righty, or one of the more rare ambidextrous kitties?